Friday, January 18, 2013

No Good Deed Goes Un-Yelled-At

I hate talking to parents, and now I hate it even more.  Last night, I called my student's parents at home.  At 10:15 PM.  Completely by accident.  All because I thought I was being helpful.

Here's how it went down:  I teach at night, and my class gets out at 10:00.  My students left when class ended, and I noticed that some of them had left behind trash, so I did a quick little cleanup.  (One of them actually left an unopened banana, which I took home.  Score!)  I see that one student has left a hoodie, and as it's a small class, I decide to see if I can figure out whose hoodie it is.

Lo and behold, the student left a Moleskine notebook in the pocket, and his notebook had his name on the cover.  Super.  So I figured I'd give him a quick call and tell him to come retrieve his hoodie before the building gets locked.

Only this particular student got into my class from the wait list, and all I have in front of me is the Reigstrar's print-out with contact info for the students who registered on time.  But wait, I thought.  I know, because it's been mentioned a couple times, that this particular student lives with two other students in the class, and they're probably all walking home together right now.  So I'll just call one of the other two (let's call him Albert) and ask him to pass along the message about the hoodie.

What I didn't know was that the phone numbers the Registrar listed, while usually the students' own cell phone numbers, aren't always the students' own cell phone numbers.  And here's what happened:

ME:  Hey, Albert, it's Ruby.  I noticed that--
MALE VOICE:  Who is this?
ME:  Uh, it's Ruby, and--
FEMALE VOICE (screaming angrily in the background):  Who is it?
MALE VOICE:  Who is this, exactly?
ME:  Oh, sorry.  This...must be a wrong number.
MALE VOICE (angrily...oh, hell, just assume that during the whole conversation, everything the man and woman say to me is said with extreme anger, shock, and disdain, like I've just tried to charge them for the undercoating of their used car):  You're trying to reach Albert?
FEMALE VOICE:  He's trying to reach Albert?
ME:  Yes, sorry, but--
MALE VOICE:  And may I ask why you're calling our home at 10:15 at night?
ME:  I didn't realize this wasn't his cell phone--
MALE VOICE:  You thought this was his cell phone?
FEMALE VOICE:  Why would he think this was Albert's cell phone?
ME:  Look, I apologize.  I'm one of Albert's professors--
MALE VOICE:  You're his professor, and you're calling him at 10:15 at night?
FEMALE VOICE:  Oh my God, it's his professor?
MALE VOICE:  Professor of what?  What is the name of the class you teach?
ME:  It's...a hamster class.  Hamsters in Baskets.  Sorry, I was just calling because Albert's friend left his jacket in class, and I don't have his friend's phone number, so I thought I'd call Albert's cell, but I didn't realize this wasn't his cell number.
MALE VOICE (incredibly skeptical):  Yeah.  And what exactly is your name?
ME:  It's Ruby from Richmond.
MALE VOICE (slowly, like he's writing it down for a police report):  Ruby from Richmond.
ME:  Yes, and again, I'm sorry, I thought this was Albert's cell--
MALE VOICE:  Do you want Albert's cell phone number?
FEMALE VOICE:  Don't give him his cell phone number!  Are you crazy?
ME:  No, uh, don't worry about it.  I'm sorry.  Have a good night.
FEMALE VOICE:  Albert's professor is calling him at 10:15 at night?  Why the hell is--

I decided not to try to call Albert's other roommate.  I'm sure my Dean will get a call about evil Professor Ruby who calls parents in the middle of the night but--even worse--did so while trying to call a student in the middle of the night.

I should have taken a variant of Beaker Ben's advice:  Don't care more about their own outerwear than they do.


  1. Oh, I feel for you. I've never had the conversation with the student's parents like this but simply calling a student to say that I turned in her keys to the lost and found ensnares me into episodes like this.

    Part of my doesn't care because I'm a cynical jerk. Part of me doesn't care out of self-preservation.

  2. I've talked to several moms because of lost cell phones. The precious dear leaves their phone in class and within the hour it rings with a caller ID of mom. Usually the mom has no idea that the phone was lost, they just wanted to talk to their little darling. In the middle of the day. I always want to ask what the hell kind of college student talks to their parents that much.

    1. I've had that conversation with a "mom" calling a lost cell phone. One had a mom texting various things she was observing in a meeting. They're definitely having different relationships with their parents than I have with mine.

    2. Maybe it's just because my own mother is a distant and cold woman, but relationships like that creep me right out. Stay-at-home parents creep me out too though.

    3. I had a stay at home mom, and even my freshman year I only called home every couple of weeks. I guess some people raise their kids to be adults, and some raise them to be pets.

    4. Yes! This. I don't understand even my grad students who have these daily chats with Mom and Dad. I call home a few times a year, give or take, whenever a big event warrants it. I thought most people over 21 took this approach.

    5. When my mother left her small northern town for university in 1950, she wrote to her parents every Sunday. When I left for university 30 years later, the understanding was that I would phone home every Sunday. I continued through grad school, and in fact I still call every Sunday.

      People have different agreements, that's all. Those of us who talk to our parents more than twice a year aren't house pets. Those who only phone when Johnny loses a leg aren't unfeeling monsters - actually, wait, I don't believe that. You are unfeeling monsters. And you're breaking your poor loving mother's hearts, who bore and raised you, and it makes her whole week to hear your voice on the phone, so would it kill you to call once in awhile?

  3. A couple years ago, a student called me at 1:00 A.M. to ask me what was on the exam eight hours later.

    1. Um. Why did the student have your phone number?

    2. Now you know why I discontinued my home phone, which one can look up in the phone book and on Anytime a student asks for my cell phone, I give them my office number.

  4. I got an email at 3:45 A.M. about at test at 8 that morning. At least the email didn't wake me up.

  5. I feel for you. I've made similar mistakes. A parent once captured my phone number on caller ID, had a FERPA pass and then called me weekly for updates on her son's progress.

    1. I require parents to come in physically to my office and show a picture ID, which I always check carefully, since I otherwise have no assurance that the voice on the phone really is the parent, FERPA form or not. It's amazing what confidentiality allows one to hide behind, and even more amazing how apparently no one ever questions it. I hate being devious like a snowflake, but they did start this arms race. (Note, however, how arms races inevitably end.)

    2. I will of course never speak into a phone handed to me by a student. I have no way of knowing whether the voice on the other end is the claimed parent, FERPA form or not, plus who knows what dog germs are on that phone. (Guess who just his flu shot?)

    3. I've found this policy to be helpful when students email me after the final exam, asking for their final grade. Email is so easily hacked, I tell them. They must come to my office, either during the week or next semester. One or two do each year but they forget.

  6. Ruby, my solution is to mail the stuff to the parents house.

    With a pipebomb rigged to go off when the box is opened.

    Don't use your real address, use 1080 West Addison, Chicago, Il., 60657.

  7. Wrigley Field has enough trouble already, Strel. I'd have given the address for the Cubby Bear.

    Ruby, your first mistake was picking up that banana. All foodstuffs from students are to be approached with extreme caution, because they are so likely to carry Bubonic Plague, or some other ailment that makes antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea look like an appetizer.

  8. This whole thread is hilarious. Next time a flake leaves a phone, Ruby, erase its contents and sell it. Go buy yourself something nice with the proceeds.

    1. Or save it and use it as a prop in next year's class. When discussing your cell phone policy, Take it out and smash it, threatening to do the same to the students'.

  9. ME: Oh, sorry. This...must be a wrong number.


    ME: Oh, sorry. This...must be a wrong number, kthxbye *hangs up*

    Your mistake was trying to fix a situation where the other side is a pair of dumb crazy assholes.